Theatre in Wales

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Veteran Writer on Death by Workshop

Theatre: the Talk in England

Christopher Hampton , Hospital Club Covent Garden , June-28-16
Theatre: the Talk in England by Christopher Hampton The art is the thing. There is only one service that the non-artist can do; that is to give to the art an attention, that in microscopic measure reflects the industry and intensity that has gone into its making. Most of the talk about theatre is thin, wayward and of transient interest. But in the first half of 2016 a few topics have jumped out that are worth the remembering.

Richard Brooks in the Sunday Times of 26th June writes of Christopher Hampton. Hampton has had a long career- it helps if you start at age twenty. He is still at the centre of theatre but at a remove in Britain. He is translator of all three plays by Florian Zeller that have been seen in England. But his own recent work has been premiered abroad, “Appomattox” in Minneapolis, the next in Vienna.

He is stoic about it, says Brooks “It is young playwrights he most feels for.” Hampton elaborates: “they don’t have the privileges my generation enjoyed, of their plays being very much mounted as written, rather than filtered through the preferences and prejudices of those in charge of our theatres and TV drama departments. The world is full of people telling you how to write your plays.” This must be his reference to Florian Zeller’s first success, a play that has dementia as its subject. “My fear” says Hampton “is losing the jagged edges that cut into the audience.”

It is a nice metaphor, certainly a good one for the best of recent work from Wales. The article is a reprise of a report that appeared in “the Stage” at the beginning of the month. It was an account of Hampton at London’s Hospital Club, speaking at an “in conversation” event hosted by Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. That language was uninhibited. “Contemporary writers have to satisfy an “army of bureaucrats” before their work can get produced.” “Nowadays I think the problem for writers is your play tends to get workshopped to death”.

Maybe it is the frustration of a septuagenarian. “The world is full of people telling you how to rewrite your play. Generally that has a homogenising effect because the advice people give you is based on their experience of other plays.” His targets are unspecified. That makes the argument less potent if more diplomatic. “Often it's idiotic, all that work you have to put in to change things and flatter the dramaturgs and the script editors and the army of bureaucrats that now stand between the writer and the medium.”

It is not the Royal Court he is referring to. The voice unfiltered is manifest in the watching of “Violence and Son” and “Teh Internet is Serious Business.” “Constellation Street” was reported as delivered more or less word perfect. It is more likely the South Bank, which was Hampton’s milieu in former times. Certainly that theatre’s most recent new writing has the feel of an anodising groupthink to it. “Sunset at the Villa Thalia” has craft of structure, some psychological depth and is beautifully mounted. There is much pleasure to be had to it, but none in the way of intellect or passion. The politics are pure Islington- America is nasty, yeah. In that sense it is emblematic- an eye firmly closed against what is happening on theatre’s own doorstep is so much easier and upsets no-one.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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